Any list of hardest working musicians should include the name Martin Sexton. He’s released 10 full-length studio albums over a 20-year career, and has commonly spent a year or more touring behind each release. But when he steps onstage for his March 7 show at City Winery in Napa, he won’t be complaining.
“You can do anything for 20 years. You could be a taste tester at Ben & Jerry’s, and that can get old after 20 years,” Sexton, who recently released a new CD, Mixtape of the Open Road, says in a recent phone interview.
“But by the grace of God, I love the work,” he says. “I love finishing an album and getting on the horse and starting the [touring] cycle like we are right now, doing the interviews, meeting people, throwing the shows, signing the records. I love all that. And I love the performance most of all.”
Audiences have obviously responded to what Sexton brings to the table. A career that started with the 1992 debut release In the Journey (he sold some 20,000 copies of that album while busking at shows) went on to include a pair of major-label releases for Atlantic Records (The American in 1998 and Wonder Bar in 2000), and since then, has featured six more albums on his own Kitchen Table Records label.
Sexton has never had a radio hit. Nevertheless, he now headlines theaters and large clubs nationwide, largely due to word-of-mouth raves that draw fans year after year. As its title suggests, the new album was inspired in part by mixtapes—those collections of songs friends put together for each other on cassettes back in the old days, and more recently on CDs.
The album boasts the diversity that’s common on mixtapes. There’s shuffling retro-country (“Do It Daily”), acoustic folk (“Set in Stone”), rootsy jazz (“Doin’ Something Right”), bluesy soul (“Give It Up”), Grateful Dead–ish rock (“Shut Up and Sing”) and rowdy, fuzzed-up rock (“Remember That Ride”).
“My records have always been very rangy,” Sexton says. “I’ve always taken a tip from [the Beatles’] Abbey Road and
the White Album, to range from ‘Blackbird’ to ‘Helter Skelter’ on the same album. I’ve always dug that. I’ve loved the whole journey of an album, where it ranges from this quiet thing to a big thing. So on this record, I just stepped on the gas and headed in that direction, and made it even more of a mixtape.”